Growing up a Third Culture Kid

I am 20 years old and already I have made more major life decisions than someone twice my age. This is not arrogance nor an attempt to be more worldly than my peers, this is because typically, as a Third Culture Kid I have already on average made eight major life changes. I do not fully identify with the TCK label, however it would be naive to completely disassociate myself with it. Whenever I have read online articles from other TCK’s I have always looked for areas where I differ from them (rather than relate) and I think this is because I have always wanted to have a solid national identity. I have always wanted to support one side of an international sports tournament unequivocally, or proudly claim I am from not just a country but, a city or town within a country, or experience the familiar smells of my country and feel safe. For me, this doesn’t exist.

Historically, as people we have been socially constructed to identify with a certain body of land or a nation-state however, as a TCK I have never had this. I was born and raised in Hong Kong (until I went away for school at 13) by parents who were both from different sides of the planet to each other (Scotland and the USA) and had created for themselves a new culture within this foreign one.

The one memory that vividly sticks out in my mind is when I was about 8 years old and I was on holiday in Ireland (to me it was basically Scotland) and the instructor asked me where I was from. I replied, “Hong Kong”. “Don’t lie, Alex. Where are you REALLY from?” It seems silly now but then and there I felt like crying. How can I convince this adult I am not lying? Well I couldn’t because I am not ethnically Chinese and this person has no reason to believe me so instead I chose to lie in order to convince him I wasn’t lying. This is common amongst us TCK’s as there is no way of telling a stranger where you are from or where you identify with without either sounding like you are lying or, in the case of telling the whole truth, arrogant. We only sound arrogant because the truth is unusual and I don’t blame people for thinking of me that way.

I went away for schooling almost 6,000 miles away at 13 to a country I was supposedly from but knew nothing about. All of my friends thought I was crazy for choosing to go to boarding school. Despite this, I wanted to leave and funnily enough, this has been a recurring theme throughout my life.

My supposed ‘home country’ was a major culture shock and I was not used to this new world. It took a long time for me to adapt to fit in with my new friends. Unsurprisingly, my best friends at school were also TCK’s who lacked a solid national identity or had several. I don’t know exactly what it was that brought us together but sometimes I think it is because we see the world a little differently to those who have a solid national identity.

Now I am at university (in England) and I have become so good at concealing the truth that people I meet think I am English. For a while I embraced this new identity, I wanted to belong somewhere. I wanted that sense of community. But, I would not change the way I have been raised for the world.

Very normal
Many of my friends think of jetting solo around the world as ‘brave’ or ‘mature’ and although it does flatter me, it is not the truth. I have to travel in order to feel at peace and to feel at ‘home’. This is not some hipster way of saying ‘Hey bro, travelling is my life source’. No, travelling is how I was raised and thus without it I feel lost and imprisoned. If it was to be taken away I would be a lesser version of myself .

The truth is I more often than not feel entrapped in my surroundings and I frequently need to ‘get away’. By doing this I remind myself that all of my problems and worries are so much smaller than who I am and that although people are superficially different, deep down we are really all the same. Therefore, I believe my identity is the world community, it is my family, my friends and the country I call home in that time and place. Because of this I believe that TCK’s can offer a unique perspective on the world since we are exposed to so many different world views.

Some other TCK articles:

The Not-So-Glamorous Life


31 Signs You’re A Third Culture Kid


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